After serving 27 years in the U.S. Military, Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer made a brave decision: She came out.
“I had that a-ha moment, that epiphany, and I disclosed to the investigator, when I was seeking a top-secret clearance, that I was a lesbian,” said Cammermeyer, UW alumna and author of the memoir, “Serving in Silence.” “I was absolutely devastated when I was discharged for my honest statement. Like many of you, I had always believed that the military took care of its own.”
But Cammermeyer’s story doesn’t end there. She fought her discharge in the U.S. federal court, which eventually ruled in her favor, stating she was denied equal opportunity under the Fifth Amendment.
“Even in the face of injustice, she kept fighting for her right to serve,” UW Tacoma Chancellor Mark Pagano said just before presenting Cammermeyer with the Distinguished Alumni Veteran Award at the Veteran’s Day ceremony on Wednesday morning. “Her story inspires the next generation to work for a world of good.”
Cammermeyer attended the UW for her master’s and her doctorate, graduating in 1976 and again in 1991 from the School of Nursing. She entered the Army as a nurse in 1963 after graduating from the University of Maryland, and in 1967 began serving at the 24th Evacuation Hospital in Long Binh, Vietnam. In 1968, she became pregnant with her first of four sons and was asked to leave the military.
“Women were not allowed to have dependants under the age of 16, and none of us knew how to give birth to a 16-year-old,” Cammermeyer said.
Four years later, the policy changed and she returned to the military. In 1988 she became the Chief Nurse of the Washington State National Guard. It was in 1989 that she made the decision to come out.
“The military made me a warrior for social justice, and allowed me to live my truth,” Cammermeyer said.
Since retiring from the military with full privileges in 1997, she has continued to fight for various causes, including gay, lesbian, and transgender rights. She hosted an Internet talk show, opened an adult family home, and even ran for Congress. She also fought, alongside many others, for Congress to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
“When you experience injustice, whether in the military or in civilian life, take the opportunity, be willing to take a chance, and stand up to change the status quo, so there really will be liberty and justice for all,” Cammermeyer said.
Before Cammermeyer addressed the crowd gathered alongside veterans, families, and the UW’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corp cadre at the flagpole adjacent to Red Square, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., shared her thoughts on veteran care in the United States.
She emphasized the importance of high-quality health care to help address “the invisible wounds of war,” job-training programs, transitional services, and educational opportunities.
“These aren’t going above and beyond,” Murray said. “That is the bare minimum of what our country should be doing.”
She praised the UW’s care for veterans across its three campuses. With over 1,800 students on Seattle, Tacoma, and Bothell campuses who have served in the armed forces, the UW has over 30 programs that assist veterans.
UW Bothell Chancellor Wolf Yeigh mentioned a few of these programs. The College of Arts and Sciences has an integrated social sciences bachelor’s degree completion program that has attracted military spouses, veterans, and some active duty members. The UW School of Nursing is contributing to pain management research at Madigan Army Medical Center on Joint Base Lewis-McChord. And the UW School of Public Health has contributed to research of depression in seniors, helping elderly veterans in King County.
“Our words of gratitude alone are not enough to honor our veterans,” Yeigh said. “As a university we are committed to doing all we can to support those who have bravely served our country.”
The UW Seattle’s new Office of Student Veteran Life, which Yeigh also applauded, will open in December. It will provide access to counselors, mentors, and career help.
A veterans social at UW Tacoma on Thursday will mark the end of Veterans Appreciation Week at the UW.
Reach News Editor Kate Clark at email@example.com. Twitter: @KateClarkUW